History of Karate Map
Karate History Chart
Book a Seminar
Support This Site
Join the Association
|Have the natkd.com
instructors teach a seminar at your location.
||Keep natkd.com a free
and growing resource. Suggested donation = $20
||Are you an student or
instructor looking for a Martial Arts Organization to join?
[Click here for Karate
Western students of Asian martial arts, if they have done any research
on the subject at all, will surely have come across references to
Bodhidharma. He is known as "Daruma" in Japan and as often as not, this
Indian Buddhist monk is cited as the prime source for all martial arts
styles or at the vary least, for any style which traces its roots back
to the fabled Shaolin Temple. However, the question of his contributions
to the martial arts and to Zen Buddhism and even of his very existence
has been a matter of controversy among historians and martial arts
scholars for many years (Spiessbach,1992).
As legend has it, the evolution of karate began over a thousand years
ago, possibly as early as the fifth century BC when Bodhidharma arrived
in Shaolin-si (small forest temple), China from India and taught
Zen Buddhism. He also introduced a systematized set of exercises
designed to strengthen the mind and body, exercises which allegedly
marked the beginning of the Shaolin style of temple boxing.
Bodhidharma's teachings later became the basis for the majority of
Chinese martial arts. In truth, the origins of karate appear to be
somewhat obscure and little is known about the early development of
karate until it appeared in Okinawa.
is a small island of the group that comprises modern day Japan. It is
the main island in the chain of Ryuku Islands which spans from Japan to
Taiwan. Surrounded by coral, Okinawa is approximately 10 km (6 mi) wide
and only about 110 km (less than 70 mi) long. It is situated 740 km (400
nautical mi) east of mainland China, 550 km (300 nautical miles) south
of mainland Japan and an equal distance north of Taiwan. Being at the
crossroads of major trading routes, its significance as a "resting spot"
was first discovered by the Japanese. It later developed as a trade
centre for southeastern Asia, trading with Japan, China, Indo China,
Thailand, Malaysia, Borneo and the Philippines.
In its earliest stages, the
martial art known as "karate" was an indigenous form of closed fist
fighting which was developed in Okinawa and called
or 'hand'. Weapons bans, imposed on the Okinawans at various points
in their history, encouraged the refinement of empty-hand techniques
and, for this reason, was trained in secret until modern times. Further
refinement came with the influence of other martial arts brought by
nobles and trade merchants to the island.
Te continued to develop over the years, primarily in three
Okinawan cities: Shuri, Naha and Tomari. Each of these towns was a
centre to a different sect of society: kings and nobles, merchants and
business people, and farmers and fishermen, respectively. For this
reason, different forms of self-defense developed within each city and
subsequently became known as Shuri-te, Naha-te and Tomari-te.
Collectively they were called Okinawa-Te or Tode,
'Chinese hand'. Gradually, karate was divided into two main groups:
Shorin-ryu which developed around Shuri and Tomari and Shorei-ryu which
came from the Naha area. "It is important to note, however, that the
towns of Shuri, Tomari, Naha are only a few miles apart, and that the
differences between their arts were essentially ones of emphasis, not of
kind. Beneath these surface differences, both the methods and aims of
all Okinawan karate are one in the same" (Howard, 1991). Gichin
Funakoshi goes further to suggest that these two styles were developed
based on different physical requirements Funakoshi, 1935). Shorin-ryu
was quick and linear with natural breathing while Shorei-ryu emphasized
steady, rooted movements with breathing in synchrony with each movement.
Interestingly, this concept of two basic styles also exist in kung-fu
with a similar division of characteristics (Wong, 1978).
Chinese character used to write Tode could also be pronounced 'kara'
thus the name Te was replaced with kara te - jutsu or
'Chinese hand art' by the Okinawan Masters. This was later changed to
karate-do by Gichin Funakoshi who adopted an alternate meaning for
the Chinese character for kara, 'empty'. From this point on the
term karate came to mean 'empty hand'. The Do in karate-do
means 'way' or 'path', and is indicative of the discipline and
philosophy of karate with moral and spiritual connotations.
concept of Do has been prevalent since at least the days of the
Okinawan Scholar Teijunsoku born in 1663, as this passage from a poem he
matter how you may excel in the art of te,
And in your scholastic endevours,
Nothing is more important than your behavior
And your humanity as observed in daily life.
first public demonstration of karate in Japan was in 1917 by Gichin
Funakoshi, at the Butoku-den in Kyoto (Hassell 1984). This, and
subsequent demonstrations, greatly impressed many Japanese, including
the Crown-Prince Hirohito, who was very enthusiastic about the Okinawan
art. In 1922, Dr. Jano Kano, founder of the Japanese art of Judo,
invited Funakoshi to demonstrate at the famous Kodokan Dojo and to
remain in Japan to teach karate. This sponsorship was instrumental in
establishing a base for karate in Japan. As an Okinawan "peasant art,"
karate would have been scorned by the Japanese without the backing of so
formidable a martial arts master (Maliszewski, 1992).
Today there are four main styles of karate-do in Japan: Goju-ryu,
Shito-ryu, Shotokan, and Wado-ryu:
Goju-ryu developed out of Naha-te, its popularity primarily due
to the success of Kanryo Higaonna (1853-1915). Higaonna opened a dojo
in Naha using eight forms brought from China. His best student,
Chojun Miyagi (1888-1953) later founded Goju-ryu, 'hard soft way'
in 1930. In Goju-ryu much emphasis is placed on combining soft circular
blocking techniques with quick strong counter attacks delivered in rapid
Shito-ryu was founded by Kenwa Mabuni (1889-1952) in 1928 and was
influenced directly by both Naha-te and Shuri-te. The name Shito is
constructively derived from the combination of the Japanese
characters of Mabuni's teachers' names - Ankoh Itosu and Kanryo
Higaonna. Shito-ryu schools use a large number of kata, about fifty, and
is characterized by an emphasis on power in the execution of techniques.
Shotokan was founded by Gichin Funakoshi (1868-1957) in Tokyo in
1938. Funakoshi is considered to be the founder of modern karate. Born
in Okinawa, he began to study karate with Yasutsune Azato, one of
Okinawa's greatest experts in the art. In 1921 Funakoshi first
introduced Karate to Tokyo. In 1936, at nearly 70 years of age, he
opened his own training hall. The dojo was called Shotokan after
the pen name used by Funakoshi to sign poems written in his youth.
Shotokan Karate is characterized by powerful linear techniques and deep
Wado-ryu, 'way of harmony', founded in 1939 is a system of karate
developed from jujitsu and karate by Hienori Otsuka as taught by one of
his instructors, Gichin Funakoshi. This style of karate combines basic
movements of jujitsu with techniques of evasion, putting a strong
emphasis on softness and the way of harmony or spiritual discipline.
Farkas, Emil & Corcoran,
John (1983), The Dictionary of Martial Arts, Overlook, New York
Frederic, Lois (1991), A Dictionary of the Martial Arts,
Funakoshi, Gichin (1935), Karate-Do Kyohan, Kobundo Book
Funakoshi, Gichin (1975), Karate-Do: My Way of Life,
Kodansha International, Tokyo
Hassell, R.G. (1984), Shotokan Karate: Its History and
Tradition, Focus Publications
Higaonna, Morio (1987), Traditional Karate-Do-Okinawa Goju Ryu,
Volume l, Minto Research an Publishing, Tokyo
Maliszewski, Michael (1992), Meditative-Religious Traditions
of FightingArts & Martial Ways, Journal of Asian Martial Arts,
Volume 1, Number 3, Via Media Publishing Company, Erie Pennsylvania
Nagamine, Shoshin (1976), The Essence of Okinawan Karate-Do,
Nakaya, Takao (1986), Karate-Do History and Philosophy,
JSS Publishing, Texas
Reid, Howard & Croucher, Michael (1991), The Way of the
Warrior, The Overlook Press, New York
Spiessbach, Michael (1992), Bodhidharma: Meditating Monk
Martial Arts Master or Make Believe?, Journal of Asian Martial Arts,
Volume 1, Number 4, Via Media Publishing Company, Erie Pennsylvania
Wingate, Carrie (1993), Exploring Our Roots: Historical and
Cultural Foundations of the Ideology of Karate- Do, Journal of Asian
Martial Arts, Volume 2, Number 3, Via Media Publishing Company, Erie
Wong, James (1978), A source book in the Chinese martial arts:
History, philosophy, systems and styles: vol. 1, Koinonia
Productions, Stockton, California